This past week, I have seen some really shitty things being said about trans people in general and trans women in particular. Amid all of it, I saw something that I didn’t expect to see after the community tried so hard to put it to bed, and that was the revival of the “socialized as a woman”/”socialized as female” trope. For those of you who don’t understand the shorthand, I’m referring to the phenomenon whereby bigots like trans exclusive radical feminists (TERFs) dismiss trans women for not having been socialized as a woman. There’s also a heavy contingent of trans men who maintain that since they feel like they were socialized as women, it must mean there’s some lack of nuance in the fact that many trans women also maintain that we were socialized as women.
Trans women who maintain the position that we were socialized as women, in general, maintain that the reason that we were socialized as women because while we may have been closeted or even unconscious of our genders, we were still absorbing the same signals from society at large about how women are to behave and how misogyny will police our behavior. Many of us have elaborated on this with more nuance in the theory than I am going to use here.
Instead, I am going to show you, through my own experience, why it is that I don’t have time for people who want to question the validity of my claim to having been socialized as a woman. Bookmark this and share it if you need to.
Being socialized as a woman meant that from a young age, I was taught to perform on command for men, to groom the talents that they valued and to maintain focus on the direction of the conversation they were leading. It meant being encouraged to speak up more and participate more and then being ignored or gaslit when I did participate by people who would dismiss my ideas and then redirect the conversation in ways that allowed them to introduce the parts they liked as their own.
It meant developing a flinch reaction to what most men think of as “command tone” because I could never be sure when pots and pans would start flying or when someone would be in my face screaming after it started.
It meant being constantly cognizant of my body and the way men read it, knowing that if it was misread the wrong way, I might be the victim of an assault or worse, and that I had to constantly be on guard against the ways that men would begin to prey on me if they saw through my performance.
It meant learning to expose my body to them without exposing myself to them, so that they could read me nude and come to the conclusions I decided they should come to instead of the truth.
It meant waking up in a cold sweat because there was a hand on my doorknob and I lived alone on a floor with one restroom, one woman, and fifty-nine men.
It meant waiting until 11:45 on Wednesday to shower because it was when there would be no men for at least ten minutes due to a fluke in everyone’s schedule.
It meant being accused of mannish behavior whenever I stood up for myself or being ignored and emotionally dumped on whenever I took a less confrontational approach, since softness is not respected.
It meant the ongoing horror of hearing men describe out loud to me the ways they felt entitled to women’s bodies, with fully rendered and example-filled rationalizations for their behavior having a certain place in the natural order. It meant trying to keep the adrenaline from making me do something stupid that would get me pushed out of their presence when they did. It meant having to learn not to show men my emotions if I was going to be in a position to protect other women from them.
It meant that when I had to choose between transition healthcare for myself and caring for a disabled family member, I was pressured by forces within myself and without to put my “duty to care” first, and as a result I put off transition or over twenty years after I first considered it seriously, and that would be 24 years after I realized it would be necessary and 28 years after I realized I was transgender. My “duty to care” was always made to be more important than my duty to myself, and everyone in my family and my life continued to pressure me with it whenever I began attempting to reach outside the possibilities it dictated.
Because my mother was sick, and someone had to take care of my brother and sister. Because it’s not safe for women to be too visible when they are alone at night, and I had to work jobs with late and inconsistent hours when I didn’t always have reliable transportation–and people needed me to keep that job. Because I learned early that if the housework wasn’t done, I wasn’t “doing enough” to justify some man suffering through the career he chose to provide for me. Because other women in my family showed me that they would close ranks around my abuser and treat me like a traitor when I found a way to get out on my own.
I didn’t just absorb society’s ideas about how women should look and act, I developed a long-term eating disorder that still prevents me from being able to handle having a scale in the house. One that saw me lose 65 lbs in 6 months and lower my daily calorie intake to 1800 while scheduling elaborate 2 to 4 hour workouts sessions 5 to 7 days each week. Because if I couldn’t do that, then I wouldn’t be able to jump through the gatekeeping hoops that dictated what access to proper trans healthcare was available back when I first knew who I was, so I had to literally learn to force my body into the shape society dictated a woman’s body should be in if I was going to get help avoiding suicide.
I was socialized as a woman to the point that when I did finally decide to let myself transition, it was because I had already lived through being used as a surrogate spouse by my parent, abusive partners who put their comfort before my health, violent men who attempted to terrorize me into accepting their behavior as normal by dictating their entitlement out loud, professional environments that treated my ideas as either irrational or unfeasible until someone else found a way to propose them, and a self-image that dictated that I do an extra half hour of cardio if I wanted to earn the right to drink off my anxiety.
I’m sick of hearing that asserting this lacks nuance or dismisses what cis women have to live with.
I’ve never claimed to have had the same experience as cis women. I’ve had it considerably harder.
The fact is, when I did come out, I made the decision to do it because I’d already developed an eating disorder and I’d been an addict, I’d spent time without a house, I’d been abused by a parent and a partner, I’d tried to kill myself, I’d faced ongoing discrimination in housing and employment for being visibly queer even if I wasn’t visibly trans, I’d lost opportunities in education and professional development due to the obstacles caused by my status. In short, I only came out after I realized that I still had to suffer through all of the adversity that trans women have to suffer through, and I did it without even being recognized as a woman.
I was sexually assaulted just about a year after I came out, about eight months before I got on hormones, and it wasn’t even the first time. That’s another experience I shared with other women before they could even see me.
Stop telling me what I experienced.
Stop telling me this lacks nuance.
Stop telling me that men have had women’s experiences but I have not.
Just. Fucking. Stop.
I might have been socialized to doubt my own experiences unless they’d been dictated back to me after having been filtered through someone else, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to keep accepting the practice.
I’m not speaking for anyone else, but I was socialized as a woman, and I’m really not interested in hearing from anyone who got this far and still doubts me.